There was a time when the words “I quit" elicited horror from the listener, who almost somersaulted on hearing the news, cast a look of “have you lost your marbles?", and felt compelled to immediately provide wise counsel and drill sense into “the misguided youngster". Now, the tables have definitely turned. The current working generation of digital natives has cast those fears to the wind and their workplace philosophy is based on the here and now.
We have heard enough managers rue that millennials and Gen Z have no qualms in packing up the little quirky photo frames or lovely terrariums that adorn their workstations and striding confidently towards the door, leaving the others, as T.S Eliot put it, to measure their lives in coffee spoons.
Gone are the days when people retired from the company they joined as trainees. The modern employee is continuously scanning the experience landscape, firmly believes in the laws of diminishing marginal utility, and seeks to achieve ikigai, the Japanese concept of finding the sweet spot between what you are good at and what you love.
Exit interview forms no longer have a close-ended question on “reasons for leaving the job". Of course, we are all too familiar with the hygiene factors and motivational reasons employees cite for leaving companies: lack of work-life balance, dearth of career augmentation, or good old money. But this time my focus is on some of the more offbeat reasons that cause employees to abandon ship in search of greener pastures.
YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE
This group’s main reason for leaving is the desire to seize the moment. They believe, and proceed to illustrate, that the present is the only time for them to live life to the fullest. They give up work to actively pursue a hobby, write a book, or even dabble in politics. Some decide to learn a new skill or a foreign language, others take time off to backpack across Europe or visit the exotic locales at which a muchwatched TV series were set (this one’s a new trend). Some want to pursue farming, while others want to learn music... the list is endless. In conversation with this group, one thing is clear: they believe in the saying, “Life is short, buy the bag!"
FEAR OF MISSING OUT
These are the employees prone to social anxiety. The very thought that they may lose an opportunity to grow or learn something that is trending in their peer group is a tremendous push factor. Their reasons for leaving organizations range from sabbaticals for study or upskilling, to grandparenting duties, to parents who don’t want to miss out on the milestone years. The largest portion of the FOMO pie is taken up by the ones bitten by the entrepreneurship bug who have long harboured dreams of opening a café or tending to their own small patch of green.
JOY OF MISSING OUT
This group has traversed the rocky terrains of FOMO and YOLO and now has realized that the answer to happiness lies in JOMO. They want to slow down and smell the flowers. They are not in favour of comparisons and competition, and believe in searching for meaning in their daily lives and also in their work.
Many leave to work for the unprivileged, some to shun the fear and anxiety that daily drudgery brings. Some may even proceed to declare that the “mountains are beckoning". It is not unusual to find employees who blissfully give up well-paying jobs to become a yoga expert or a mindfulness coach.
There are reasons for quitting that, at first blush, may seem even more offbeat, like suffering from Monday morning blues or taking care of a pet or an employee perceiving that the salary is too high and cannot be justified. And of course, there is the one that raises eyebrows and piques the interest of the listener every time it is mentioned as a reason for quitting—sorting out a rich relative’s estate.
But my own personal favourite is one I encountered several decades ago. This young bright engineering trainee walked up to me and said he was quitting to join a religious order. Since he was still serving a service bond, I said, “But what about your service bond?" His response: “Ma’am, I am joining God and you are quoting the bond."
The very next day he donned the ascetic’s robes and joined the order. Marie Kondo’s KonMari (no longer sparking joy) acid test has now become a touchstone for employees who don’t find adequate self-expression in their jobs. As we speak, the alternative workforce is becoming mainstream and research is pointing to the fact that one third of all employees may quit in the next 12 months.
Well, whatever the reason for leaving, whether they are mainstream or offbeat, one thing is clear, the late Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar could never have predicted that the song they crooned in 1970—“Accha toh hum chalte hain"—would go on to become the anthem of company farewells for generations to follow. Hema Ravichandar is a strategic human resources consultant. She serves as an independent director and an advisory board member for several organizations.